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How Japan Mined Its History To Fuel The Innovation Of Today

To casual observers, Japan’s creative and technological might is a decisively modern development. Rooted in the rebuilding efforts that followed World War II, it spawned fuel-efficient cars, manga, and electronics and robots in spades. But a recently concluded exhibit at the Canadian Museum of Civilization shows a much deeper history: Japan was a hive of innovation long before the advent of either the Walkman or the Wakamaru.

JAPAN: Tradition. Innovation revealed how artifacts from the Renaissance-like Edo Period (1603-1867) inspired many of the inventions synonymous with contemporary Japan. The compact cars of today are descendants of Edo-era handcrafted Palanquin sedan chairs. USB drives and mini music players have echoes of the portable lacquered boxes full of ink, brushes, and writing paper that kept yesteryear’s leisure classes occupied on their travels. Even the most sophisticated modern technological feats, robots, have a historical precedent in Japanese society of yore: karakuri ningyo, small mechanical dolls used to serve tea.

The eras’ common factor? “Both are prolonged periods of peace that unleashed an enormous amount of creativity,” museum president and CEO Victor Rabinovitch says. Let that be a lesson for countries everywhere to make stuff, not war.

The exhibit ended in October, but the accompanying website is still up and has lots of great information. Have a look-see here.

[Images courtesy of CMCC]SL